tending to and releasing the stories we carry

Good morning and good morning — it’s been a little while since I wrote a blog post in the dark. Last week, I had a visit from my father last week, followed by a short vacation with my sweetheart to a place where I spent about 24 hours on a beach (not consecutive, but still!)

My shoulders ache this morning and you’d think I didn’t just spend a bunch of time in warm ocean water, floating and floating, staring up at the sky. There was a day when most of what I did was to drift at the shoreline, just where water meets sand, and let the small schools of fish gather around and nibble at my legs. I felt so grateful to be gathered around by these my Pisces kindred, by these little minnow-y fish with their big yellow-stained eyes. I felt welcomed. I stood or drifted in the water and they circled and circled around my body, like I was something to be contained, or investigated. One or two of the fish would break away from the school and point themselves toward my face, as though they were looking right at me. I looked back, smiling, absolutely aware that they can’t read my expressions. Still, it felt like visitation. They took little nibbles and bites out of the backs of my calves and thighs, sometimes using their teeth enough that I yelped and squirmed away.

I let the salt water hold me. I let the waves crashing over the barrier wall effervesce the water that I floated through, bubbling all over my skin. I got doused and dunked. I swam toward nothing. Now and again, I imagined dropping all our stories into this good and blue water — all these stories of loss and despair and fury, the stories I have been listening to since the mid-90s, the stories of very precise and particular violences. Intimate violence is always precise and particular — intimate. I let the water scour the tender belly where the stories live. I let the water lift the stories up. I let the water take them.

I want to tell the the survivors I’ve worked with over these years — I remember you. I remember what you said. I remember what you told me about how he held you, how he stalked you, how he spoke to your children, how he threatened to have your green card revoked, how you went to the police but they said what he’s doing isn’t a crime. I remember the endless phone calls, the pages of vitriolic text messages, the way he showed up at work to threaten you. I remember your embarrassment at having to tell your boss about the restraining order. I remember you losing your job. I remember wondering where he found the time to devote to harassing you — why didn’t he have to work? I remember what you told me about how she belittled you, how she shamed you, the exact ways you described them putting their hands in violence on your body. I remember what you said you were wearing. I remember the tears you shed when you spoke these words. I remember your rage and your feelings of impotence, your isolation, your disappointment in friends and family when they continued relationships with the people who had hurt you and your children. I remember how your friends wanted to tell you what to do, and got mad when you didn’t do what they said. I remember how the people in your life didn’t believe you, because the person hurting you was so different when you were out in public with them. I remember how scared your kids were. I remember how much you adored your children. I remember how you parented poorly. I remember how you couldn’t look at anyone else in the room, how you bent over a cigarette, how you were surprised that someone else understood what you were going through. I remember how you asked for money. I remember what you said was done to you. I remember the fathers, brothers, mothers, boyfriends, husbands, girlfriends who assaulted you. I remember your descriptions of ritual violence, the creativity of your perpetrators to find innovative ways to terrorize and brainwash you. I remember how much you loved the person who was hurting you. I remember you going back. I remember you leaving again. I remember you not being able to leave. I remember you walking out of the office or a writing group and never seeing you again. I remember my fear for you. I remember the damage and harm done to your children. I remember your children’s faces as you told the stories; I remember you asking your children to back you up. I remember your children used as interpreters by cops or doctors, having to say the most awful words. I remember the shitty, stupid things the cops said. I remember watching a policeman cry, feeling so ineffective, wanting to help you more. I remember not understanding you. I remember identifying with you. I remember being angry with you, and being scared for you, and being hopeful. I remember thinking I was doing some good. I remember wondering what good any of this listening could possibly do for you, or for the world.

I remember wanting to be able to do more — I wanted, and want, to do more for you, for all of us. I remember feeling despair about ever being able to make it stop — wondering what we could possibly do to stem the tide of this flood of stories, to effect enough change in society that the flow these stories would begin to dry up: what will make people stop treating other people with violence and

I don’t tell anyone these stories, because you revealed them to me in confidence. I helped you find the words to put them into a statement for a protection order, or I wrote the stories as you told them into your file, or I listened to the stories as you shared them in a community support group, or you spoke to me after a reading or talk and shared the details of your story, or you emailed me to tell someone what was done to you, or I heard them when you shared what you wrote during a writing group, and I responded to that story as if it were fiction, because that’s what we do.

So this weekend I floated in seawater and let some of those stories float away — let the sun catch them into mist and cloud cover, let the fish nibble them off my skin. This releasing doesn’t mean I forget you. How can I forget you? It means I let loose some of the tension in my muscles where the stories caught and held, so that I can be more present with the stories to come.

We have to let the stories move through us. Some of us mediate, some of us write about them, some of us dance the stories or weep them or box them or yoga them. We sometimes booze them or smoke them or television them. Sometimes we float them, and we let the big and aching ocean float the stories — our own and others’ — around and out of us.

How do you want to move the stories through you today? How do you want to honor and nurture the stories? What if you could treat the stories as kindly as possible? What would that look like? Can you give yourself ten minutes or so to write that today?

Be easy with your good self on this Tuesday, ok? Thank you for your spaciousness with others’ words. Thank you for the care you take with the stories you have been entrusted with. Thank you for your words.

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